FA Cup semi-finalists cruise to victory
Jonathan Walters fired Stoke into the lead in the first half with a near post header, while farcical defending gifted Pennant his goal for the club barely a minute into the second half before Danny Higginbotham blasted a free-kick through the wall. Ricardo Fuller added a thumping fourth in injury time.
Tony Pulis made just the one change – bringing in Asmir Begovic for Thomas Sorensen – to the side that beat West Ham last week to book a place in the FA Cup semi-finals, while Alan Pardew handed Sol Campbell his first start of 2011 as Shola Ameobi, a man who helped Stoke to promotion in 2008 on loan from the Magpies, led the line in place of Leon Best as Newcastle lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.
Unsurprisingly for a game involving midfielders such as Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Rory Delap, the first moment of note was a fierce tackle that left Chiek Tiote in a heap for nearly a minute before Ameobi was scythed down near the touchline.
The visitors' first chance to strike came from a Barton corner, and the midfielder deceived the Stoke defense by drilling it to Fabricio Coloccini outside the area, but the Argentine's first touch was poor and the opportunity to spring a surprise was wasted.
The first 20 minutes lacked any real attacking opportunities from either side, with Newcastle coping well from Rory Delap's throws, although the away side did have one hairy moment as Kenwyne Jones was rather unsophisticatedly blocked by Mike Williamson.
Bad fortune was to strike Pardew's side, however, when Jose Enrique – an injury doubt heading into the game – limped off moments later to be replaced by Shane Ferguson.
Nolan had the first real opportunity of the game as he reacted quickest to a Campbell knockdown at the far post, but the presence of Ryan Shawcross was just enough to deter the midfielder, who could only fire over from just six yards out.
And from that miss Stoke pelted forward, with Jermaine Pennant whipping in a cross to the near post which was met by Walters, who out-jumped Campbell and powerfully headed beyond Stephen Harper.
Barton came close to restoring parity almost immediately from a free-kick 30 yards out, but the midfielder's effort dipped just over Begovic's bar.
Newcastle continued to respond well to going a goal down and nearly found the net in bundling circumstances as Nolan fired a low cross across the face of goal, which took a nip off a Stoke defender before looping high and above the Bosnian 'keeper and being punted away from danger.
The former Portsmouth shot-stopper was forced into making a fine fingertip save just before the break as substitute Ferguson whipped in a cross-cum-shot on the volley that was arrowing into the far corner before the 23-year-old flicked it away with his outstretched hand.
It was a last act of a first half that at first threatened to be bitty but exploded into life following Walters' bullet header, and while Stoke looked dangerous on the counter, it was the defensive resilience of Shawcross and Robert Huth, combined with an act of spectacular goalkeeping, that meant the home side went into the break a goal up.
From the restart the home side doubled their advantage in comical fashion. Harper casually knocked the ball forward, allowing Jones to pick up and feed through Matthew Etherington, whose cross was dreadfully flicked into the path of Pennant by Campbell to set-up an easy tap-in for the former Arsenal man.
And the Potters smashed their way to a three-goal lead just two minutes later as Higginbotham netted his second set-piece in a week with a free-kick that flew through the wall from 25 yards out.
Those quick-fire goals had the home fans chanting "Wembley", but to their credit the traveling support continued to make all the noise, and that backing may have aided Ferguson as he made a great slaloming run before firing a shot inside the area that forced an adept save from Begovic.
And Newcastle didn't stop there, despite the scoreline, as substitute Nile Ranger twisted and turned on the edge of the area but could only force Begovic into making a rudimentary save.
Barton too came close with another free-kick, this time working the goalkeeper, who had to use both fists to punch away from goal.
But Stoke by this point had squandered chances through Jones and others, and the game had turned into a celebration for the locals, who loved the comfortable manner of their victory while Pulis was afforded the luxury of bringing off Pennant, Etherington and Jones.
Substitute Fuller capped off a memorable win with a thumping fourth goal on the half-volley in injury time.
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